Voice From The Great Depression

Portrait shows Florence Thompson with several ...Image via WikipediaHave I told you about Riot4Austerity? They are a small but growing group who aims to cut their emissions to 90% of what the average American consumes, with an ultimate goal of reducing their emissions to 94% below the national average.

I don’t ‘belong’ to Riot, but I have attempting a similar reduction on my own for the past couple of years. I am with them in spirit, and I read their blog posts daily.

Inside one of her posts(The Great Depression, the Credit Crisis and the Future of your Food), Sharon included the following long quote from testimony given before Congress, in 1932.

I wanted to share it with you, hoping to draw some perspective and insight that might help us in the 21st century. Here it is:

“During the last three months I have visited…some 20 states….In the state of Washington I was told that the forest fires raging in that region all summer and fall were caused by unemployed timber workers and bankrupt farmers in an endeavor to earn a few honest dollars as firefighters. The last thing I saw on the night I left Seattle was numbers of women searching for scraps of food in the refuse piles of the principal markets of that city. A number of Montana citizens told me of thousands of bushels of wheat left in the fields uncut on account of its low price that hardly paid for the harvesting. In Oregon I saw thousands of bushels of apples rotting in the orchards because of the cost of transporting them to market. …At the same time there are millions of children who, on account of the poverty of their parents, will not eat one apple this winter.

While I was in Oregon, the Portland Oregonian bemoaned the fact that thousands of ewes were killed by sheep raisers because they did not bring enough in the market to pay the freight on them. And while Oregon sheep raisers fed mutton to the buzzards, I saw men picking for meat scraps in the garbage cans of New York and Chicago. I talked to one man in a restaurant in Chicago. He told me of his experience in raising sheep. He said he had killed 3,000 sheep this fall and thrown them down the canyon, because ti cost $1.10 to ship a sheep to market and then he would get less than a dollar for it. He said he could not afford to feed the sheep and he would not let them starve, so he just cut their throats and threw them in the canyon.

The roads of the West and Southwest teem with hungry hitchhikers. The camp fires of the homeless are seen along every railroad track. I saw men, women and children walking over the hard roads. Most of them were tenant farmers who had lost their land and been foreclosed. Between Clarksville and Russellville, Ark., I picked up a family. The woman was hugging a dead chicken under her ragged coat. When I asked her where she had procured the fowl, first she told me she had found it dead in the road, and then added in grim humor, ‘They promised me a chicken in every pot, and now I got mine.’

In Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas I saw untold bales of cotton rotting in the fields because the cotton pickers could not keep body and soul together on 35 cents for picking 100lbs. The farmers cooperatives who loaned the money to make the crop require $5 a bale in payment. That means 70 cents a day for a picker who can pick 200lbs, and that doesn’t provide enough pork and beans to keep the picker alive in the field, so that there is fine staple cotton rotting down there by the hundreds and thousands of tons.

AS a result of this appalling overproduction on one side and the staggering underconsumption on the other side, 70 percent of the farmers of Oklahoma were unable to pay the interests on their mortgages. Last week one of the largest and oldest mortgage companies in that state went into the hands of the receiver. In that and other states we have now the interesting spectacle of farmers losing their farms by foreclosure and mortgage companies losing their recouped holdings by tax sales that could never meet the value of the land.

The farmers are being pauperized by the poverty of the industrial population and the industrial population is being pauperized by the poverty of the farmers. Neither has the money to buy the product of the other.” (David Shannon, _The Great Depression_ 26-28)


I am Jon. I can’t tell you what to think, but I certainly hope you do.

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